While the Marlins have been searching for veteran help, they did discover something very valuable this spring.
The recognize now that there are a number of talented internal candidates who can step in and close, either now or in the future.
Hard-throwers Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens opened eyes with their 95-plus mph fastballs and solid secondary pitches. And Kevin Gregg, obtained from the Angels last November, improved his command in recent weeks.
Inexperience is the one concern for Lindstrom and Owens, who both came over from the Mets last November.
Lindstrom, 27, has not pitched above Double-A. Owens, 27, has just three games of big league-experience, and Gregg, 28, has appeared in 125 big-league games and has one Major League save.
"They're not young. They're in their mid-20s, so maturity-wise, they can handle a lot of things," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm just looking for consistency. It's no secret. Everybody is looking for the same thing. Consistency, that's why guys tend to get veteran players because they know they are consistent more than the ups-and-downs of young guys."
The past three years, the Marlins have enjoyed a remarkable run of landing veterans with something to prove. Benitez set a club record with 47 saves in 2004, and he parlayed that into a multi-year contract with the Giants.
In '05, Todd Jones stepped in and saved 40, earning himself a two-year contract with the Tigers. And a year ago, Joe Borowski turned in 36 saves, leading to a free-agent contract with the Indians.
Now Julio will get his chance to continue that tradition.
Early on, the organization made it clear it didn't want to use a "closer by committee" situation.
Recent history has shown the Marlins are not reluctant to give opportunities to young pitchers. So if they need depth for Julio, there are other choices.
"[They] realize they have a chance here," Gonzalez said. "There are some camps where you have no chance, unless something dramatically happens. Here, we give opportunities."
Julio's fastball has been clocked at 97 mph this spring, and he will challenge Lindstrom for overall velocity.
Lindstrom is the hardest thrower in camp. He's already reaching 98 mph in Spring Training, and he's been clocked as high as 102 mph in recent years. Owens, meanwhile, throws in the mid-90s. Gregg doesn't throw as hard, but he is known for inducing ground balls.
"You've got some power arms. Julio is a 95-plus arm. So is Lindstrom," general manager Larry Beinfest said. "Owens is on the attack. It's an interesting look out there. And Gregg has done a number of jobs in the big leagues.
"I think [our bullpen] is deeper than the group a year ago. I think it has more mix and match. There are opportunities to fit into roles early on. Whereas we were kind of in the tryout mode for a good part of last year to see what we had. Messenger has thrown the ball tremendous this spring."
Owens points out that all players await that big chance.
"I think eventually every closer has to get his chance, somehow, someway," Owens said. "I've closed games in the Minor Leagues. Obviously, that's not the big-league level.
"It is a big difference, definitely. In that closer's role, there is a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure. It takes a lot of responsibility, no matter who that person is."
During his tenure with the Mets, Owens said he talked frequently with All-Star Billy Wagner about closing.
"I love the advice he gave me," Owens said. "He said, 'Go after hitters. Don't give them too much credit. Know what your strengths are. Pitch to your strengths, and go right after them.' I really like that advice. I don't think in that role you can be too cute. You have to challenge hitters. You have to say, 'Here is my best stuff. See what you can do with it.' I really respect that, and I learned from that."